Voters be reassured: A day in Tallahassee demonstrates how smart and competent our area's legislators really are.
TALLAHASSEE — It’s the busiest time of year here. The 2019 legislative session began two weeks ago and will continue for another two months.
It’s also the most exciting time of the year. With the influx of people bustling around the Capitol, cool spring air, live oaks in full bloom, there’s just something exhilarating about session.
Maybe it’s seeing your government in action. Or the passion behind the people lobbying for causes that matter most to them. For me, it was seeing that my vote counted. Sarasota and Manatee, be assured: You elected some highly intelligent, competent and compassionate people to represent us.
During my visit last week to Tallahassee in support of the Florida Press Association’s Public Notice Day (see sidebar), I was able to see in action Reps. Will Robinson, R-District 71; Margaret Good, D-District 72; Tommy Gregory, R-District 73; and Sen. Joe Gruters, R-District 23. Rep. James Buchanan, R-District 74, was unavailable, and I didn’t even try to get on Senate President Bill Galvano’s schedule. You can imagine how many people want time with him.
Each of these representatives appeared to have a common passion among their legislative priorities: education and clean water.
Asked how he was enjoying his new role in the House, Gregory crossed his legs, allowing his cowboy boots to peek out from underneath his suit, and replied with a huge grin, “I love it.”
You could tell he was sincere as he spoke excitedly about innovation in education and mental health care, specifically regarding revising the licensing process of clinical social workers, family and marriage therapists and mental health counselors. His bill, HB 509, would make the licensing process more efficient, increasing the number of professionals who can provide help.
Robinson seemed equally as thrilled, saying it’s everything he imagined and more. He has filed the most bills among his Sarasota-Manatee colleagues in the House (Robinson, 27; Gregory, 25; Buchanan 18; Good, 16). The talk in the Capitol is Robinson is being groomed for leadership among his Republican class of representatives.
Good has already been tapped as one of four deputy Democratic leaders in the House. When you see her cheery office (See sidebar), it speaks of the way she represents her district: hugging visitors, taking pictures with constituents and sharing legislative wins, including first readings of her House Bill 4773, which provides an appropriation for the Cross College Alliance through the Ringling College of Art and Design.
And then there is Sen. Gruters. Just as he was man-on-campus in our day at Cardinal Mooney High School, Gruters is holding court in Tallahassee. The man is in his element.
Not only has he filed 69 bills, he seems to be having a good ol’ time doing it. Unfazed by any scrutiny, Gruters is a no-nonsense yet jovial senator navigating the political waters expertly while being able to cross party lines as demonstrated with his work with Rep. Good on red tide.
Equally impressive as our legislators were the number of Sarasota-Manatee community leaders representing our area in Tallahassee. Seen lobbying on behalf of their organizations:
• State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld with Trustee Robert Wyatt;
• Jewish Family and Children’s Service CEO Heidi Brown
• Arts and Cultural Alliance Executive Director Jim Shirley with Board member Rebecca Hopkins of Florida Studio Theatre
• Casey Welch, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee assistant vice president of external affairs and government relations
• Jon Mast, Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association CEO
• Jack Brill, acting chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County. Brill’s daughter, Victoria, is Gruters’ senior legislative aide.
Seeing Sarasota-Manatee represented in such a strong force on the legislative and constituent side filled me with pride for our region. If you ever have the opportunity to see our elected officials in action during session, do it. You’ll be reassured they are there for the right reasons.